Review of “Snakes in Suits”

A few days ago I unexpectedly came across a book that I believe may be one of the most important books I’ve read—Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hale (2006).

This is not your standard self-help book that panders to readers needing yet another pop-psychology fix. It is a serious but readable treatise on how the psycho-dynamics of predatory behavior manifests in the workplace, the damage that results when this happens, and how co-workers and superiors can and must respond with greater wisdom.

Early chapters describe in broad terms the profile of the psychopath and explain that psychopaths should not be confused with the criminally insane. The traits and behaviors are so subtle that it can be very difficult to discern the psychopaths among us, including those at work.

The authors go on to describe their discovery of the unique ways in which psychopaths behave on their paths to greater influence in organizations. The indicators are so subtle that you will probably think of certain people and wonder if they aren’t psychopaths after all. You may even wonder if you’re a psychopath! But Babiak and Hare are very careful to identify the distinct ways that psychopaths differ from people with normal emotional challenges, ego-needs, and even narcissistic tendencies. This is one of the most clarifying things about their research.

Stereotypical psychopaths who have literally killed without remorse differ from those “snakes in suits” who manifest certain psychopathic traits more than other psychopathic traits. Psychopaths in the workplace practice highly-tuned deception and manipulation whose complicated behavior is revealed with remarkable clarity in this book. And the authors virtually shout a warning to those responsible for the productivity, morale, and culture of their organizations.

The psychopaths spoken of by Babiak and Hare use people for their own aggrandizement. These people often permit this without knowledge of what is happening, until it’s too late and they are discarded. These are the psychopath’s pawns.

Meanwhile, others make excuses for the psychopath, clearing the way for further abuse of power with destructive emotional consequences. These are the psychopath’s unwitting patrons.

The psychopath’s success depends on egregious manipulation disguised by an elaborate fictional persona he adopts to induce trust, create feelings of intimacy, and sustain the perception of unusual expertise. The the authors call this “impression maintenance,” which continues through each of the distinct phases of psychopathic behavior towards individuals: (1) assessment, (2) manipulation, (3) abandonment, and (4) ascension.

It would have been very beneficial to have learned the lessons of Snakes in Suits when I began my professional life some twenty years ago. In countless associations in the academy, the arena of public discourse, the marketplace, and even religious organizations, I’m sure I’ve encountered the occasional psychopath—sometimes a very clever and skilled psychopath, indeed.

It’s never too late to learn, or to warn others. In my personal and professional relationships—especially those that involve mentoring future leaders—I’ll be recommending this book.

Also by Robert D. Hare:

Related Reading (discovered after writing the above review):

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

19 Responses to Review of “Snakes in Suits”

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    I’m afraid he’s right, Su.

    Like

  2. Doug Geivett says:

    I’d be very interested in seeing or hearing that discussion by Wayne Oates. Apparently we agree on this point.

    -Doug

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  3. Wayne Oates, a faculty member at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, discussed the fact that there are psychopaths who cause a lot of dissension in churches as they jockey for admiration and control.

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  4. Doug Geivett says:

    MystyWoods,

    Sounds like you made the sanity-preserving move. MH has a good idea for a follow-up book: Snakes in Heels. Check your local public library for the Harris book. If they don’t have it, maybe they can order it for you.

    -Doug

    Like

  5. mystywoods says:

    So true Doug, about who makes the decisions about the ‘nipping’ Lol.
    As far as the job goes, I’ve politely given notice. It was only part time and not worth taking risks of anything worse occurring. It’s been coming anyway, and I feel relieved now. I haven’t been able to get hold of a copy of the book yet but I’m working on it.

    Like

  6. MH. says:

    There should also be a book called Snakes in Heels. My boss is a female psycho. And very good at it too. She has everyone around her fooled, except those who are no longer there because they woke up to her, or dared to speak out.

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  7. Doug Geivett says:

    Given your situation, MH, I would urge you to read this book for creative ideas about how to function in your current environment and act before acted upon! Let me know how it goes . . . .

    -Doug

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  8. Doug Geivett says:

    I hope the psychopaths aren’t the ones making decisions about who gets to be “nipped in the bud.”

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  9. MH. says:

    Great idea Van Eck. The psych test should be a vital part of every job application, especially those where staff will be looking after the vulnerable aged, sick, disabled etc. And animals too.

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  10. MH. says:

    Geneticists are working on finding the psychopath gene. They’ve already found the unfortunately named ‘Warrior’ gene which is commonly found in domestic violent abusers, but I think that’s a different thing. If they could isolate the actual psychopath/sociopath gene we could then do invitro testing and nip it in the bud, saving the world a whole lot of suffering and sorrow; not to mention money.
    A psychopath must derive great pleasure knowing he doesn’t feel remorse, empathy, sadness or guilt. Oh to have just a little of that to take the edge of the harshness of life.

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  11. MH. says:

    Geneticists are working on finding the psychopath gene. They’ve already found the unfortunately named ‘Warrior’ gene which is commonly found in domestic violent abusers, but I think that’s a different thing. If they could isolate the actual psychopath/sociopath gene we could then do invitro testing and nip it in the bud, saving the world a whole lot of suffering and sorrow; not to mention money.

    Like

  12. MH. says:

    I really need to order this book. My boss ticks all the psychopath boxes, but no one else can see it except a few who have been booted out of the organisation and too afraid to tell their stories. One was a whistleblower about fundings that were misdirected over a long period of time (while the boss built a white mansion on the beach). The worker followed all the right protocol but ended up being booted, villified and stalked for almost a year, ending up having to take out a DVO, yet no one in the office knows a thing about it and the boss is well admired. She is carismatic and clever. When it comes to group talks about how to treat people, she talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. I’ve known her the longest now and indications are showing that my turn is next because for once I dared to speak up for myself for being rudely interupted and contradicted in front of a room full off work colleagues. Now I’m in the proverbial poo and I’m being deliberately left to stew until she is good and ready to meet with me, in what I call the Inquisition room where the victims chair is set lower than hers. And where she gets to reign over the whole process playing prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. I’m the only one in the office who knows this pattern, and that she has had a DVO taken out against her by an ex employee.

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  13. Robert Mijas says:

    Thanks for the review. Lobaczewski’s Political Ponerology is also a good book to read.

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  14. Thanks for this good info. I have read this book and recommend it widely. We quote from it regularly. For some New testament warnings aout people that overplap with the category of psychopaths, see the three entries realted to “Member Tares” at CORE Member Care:
    http://coremembercare.blogspot.com/search/label/tares

    We don’t need to e paranoid about psychopaths or tares. But we do need to be aware of thier presence and influence. A caveat: trying to expose or confront a psychopath/tare is risky usiness., as the Snakes in Suits book and pages of Scripture show.

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  15. Van Eck says:

    Nice book! In today’s corporate world, it is very easy to spot a lot of psychopaths if you hold up the PCL-R against them. Most of them will be handling important positions and will be termed as key employees or super achievers. After this book was released, after one of our HR workshops, we proposed to the senior management that we modify our new hire evaluation process to include a mild PCL check. Immediately after implementation, rejection rate rose to very high levels, and could not align with company’s staffing requirements (large volume, high churn rate, highly competitive market). Senior management attributed the reduced HR capacity to the new personality checks. An independent HR consulting firm was hired and they confirmed the fact and the whole idea was junked. Not to mention a few terminations in the HR block. Implementation of PCL in corporate world is very difficult. Verifications and built-in employee controls are the viable alternatives.

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  16. Doug Geivett says:

    Exactly. I guess we can take precautions when hiring. But most hiring is a group effort, and others may be less prsuaded by evidence of psychopathy than we are. And the poblem of dealing with co-workers is more dfficult, since is less one can do about it. But awareness and an ability to recognize the signs is a big help.

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  17. Howard says:

    Important book! I underlined and highlighted most of the book. Very informative but, now what?

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  18. Howard says:

    Doug,
    Thanks for the great review. I can’t wait to read the book!

    Like

  19. Tim Farley says:

    As a pastor, I am interested in reading this book as well. I am sure I have run across a psychopath or two in churches over the years. Thanks for the review.

    Like

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